Woodward, Okla. —
Woodward needs a new central fire station.
You've been hearing city leaders say that over and over again in recent months and years.
And now an Aug. 13 election date nears for Woodward voters to decide on a half-cent sales tax increase that would fund a proposed new station.
But instead of talking with city leaders again about why there's such a need for a new station, The News decided to visit with those who will be impacted most by the new facility should the tax measure pass.
The News sat down with a group of Woodward firefighters earlier this week to find out exactly what the new station would mean for them.
The number one thing they all said they were looking forward to with the new station is simply “more space.”
More space for vehicles, more space for equipment, and even just more space for the guys themselves.
BIGGER STATION NEEDED FOR BIGGER VEHICLES
"Our fire apparatus is outgrowing our station," Firefighter Steven Rogers said. "We're having more vehicle accidents due to lack of space."
Their fire units are currently so crammed into their apparatus bays that there isn't room to squeeze between the vehicles even without carrying their response gear. And often they can't open doors on the vehicles without hitting the wall or scraping the next vehicle.
"The other day we had an engine that wouldn't start, but there's not enough room to lift the cab inside the bay; we have to bring it outside to be able to work on it," Fire Chief Steve Day said. "Luckily they were able to finally get it started so we could go take it to the shop, otherwise we would've had a real problem."
And the fire equipment is only getting bigger. The vehicles are now made wider, longer and taller. So much so that their newest rescue unit barely fits through the garage doors, with only about an inch of clearance between the side mirrors and the door frame. And once they've successfully avoided hitting the mirrors, the firefighters have to also watch out for hitting the back wall when backing the new rescue unit into the south bay, again with only a couple of inches to spare in order to get the vehicle to fit so the garage door can be closed.
However, at least the rescue unit can fit in the station. Day said that the Support Unit 5 has to sit outside on the driveway because there's no room in the bays.
Even worse, Firefighter Jordan Ivie said, "we no longer have some units stored at the fire station, they're at different locations."
For example, Ivie said, "If we want to respond to a hazmat situation we have to go to the armory because that's where the hazmat vehicles, both the pull unit and trailer, and a 6x6 brush unit are out there."
The new station would feature 8 apparatus bays, including 5 drive-through bays and 3 reverse entry bays and would provide plenty of storage room for all the vehicles to be housed at the station once again.
There will even be room to relocate the department's 95-foot ladder truck to the central station, instead of housing it at the more distant Fire Station No. 2. Another engine would go to the second station, so that there will still be equipment located north of the railroad tracks to handle any issues that may arise on that side of town.
NEED ADDED SPACE FOR ADDED PERSONNEL
But it's not just the vehicles that are overflowing at the current station.
"Look around and you'll see how much our personnel has outgrown the place, there are racks all over the place," Firefighter Ryan Johannesmeyer said.
There are so many new personnel that some guys are having to store their bunker gear on hooks in a back hallway because there's just no more room in the main equipment bay.
Even those who have their gear in the right spot, are having to cram it into spots behind vehicles or on the side walls.
Proposed blueprints for the new station has separate bunker gear storage rooms, located in an area between the drive-through bays and rear-entry bays. These storage rooms will not only help to make all the firefighters' gear more accessible, but should also help better protect the gear from unnecessary wear.
With their gear currently stored in the same garage bays as the fire vehicles, Firefighter Bobby McDowell said, "The exhaust off the trucks will break bunker gear down quicker."
And it's not just gear that the department is struggling to find place for, they are also trying to just find places for the firefighters and staff themselves.
In 2006, Woodward Fire Department had a total staff of 31 men, with 19 paid personnel and 12 volunteers. However, after adding more firefighters over the past few years, the department now has a total of 43 personnel with 25 paid guys and 18 volunteers. The 25 paid employees include 4 administrative positions in addition to 21 firefighters, who are split up into 3 crews of 7 men each that work 48-hour shifts.
Currently every firefighter, other than the 3 shift captains, share one large room for their sleeping quarters. This means there are 18 twin-sized beds in one room, where each firefighter has little more than a foot around his individual bed for personal space. While there may not be more than a few guys sharing the sleeping quarters at any one time, it still doesn't offer a lot of privacy or comfort in their "home away from home."
Plans for the new station splits up the sleeping quarters into 7 separate rooms with only 3 beds in each. There are also 3 staff bathrooms, where now the guys have to share one.
"We just have no personal space," Firefighter Cody Foster said. "There's only the one bathroom for everyone. So only one shower and one toilet. That means when you have 7 guys coming in from a big structure fire and everybody smells like buffalos, we can only shower one guy at a time."
And just like with the vehicles, the current station doesn't have room for all the staff. The fire administrative offices are now split up between 3 buildings, with the fire chief and secretary at the station, the assistant fire chief in the nearby City Hall, and the public education officer still in the Code Enforcement building a couple of blocks north on 9th St.
"The new station will bring all the administrative offices together as well," Day said.
OTHER BENEFITS WITH NEW STATION
But while a little more elbow room is what the firefighters say they would look forward to most in the new station, that's not where they say the benefits end.
"I like the new location a lot better," Johannesmeyer said. "I don't know how many times I've almost been T-boned at this intersection."
Beyond issues with traffic not yielding for the fire vehicles, the current location is also problematic in trying to get vehicles out of the station to begin with.
"It's frustrating when we have an actual emergency going on and we're stuck at the station waiting for cars to move so we can get out," Rogers said. "We even had to drive through the yard at one point just to get out."
"It was for a structure fire, when we were stuck in the south drive and just couldn't get through traffic," Foster added.
The problem only gets worse with the more that the city grows, as more people leads to more emergency calls.
Chief Day said the station was averaging around 350 calls a year in the late-1970s through the mid-1980s. That number has now more than quintupled.
"We had right around 1,800 calls at the end of last year," Foster said.
Specifically, the fire department's calls totaled 1,794 at the end of 2012, Day said.
However, with the new station planned to go in at the intersection of 8th St. and Williams Ave., the firefighters would gain signal control over the traffic lights there, so they could stop traffic and be able to exit the station whenever they needed.
The new station would also offer features that the current one does not.
This includes a training room, where the firefighters can gather for classes to stay current on their fire response techniques and EMT skills.
Day said the training room will also serve double duty as a secondary emergency operations center or backup dispatch center if needed.
There will also be a fitness center located within the station, featuring just basic exercise equipment such as 2 treadmills, exercise bike and some weights.
Currently the firefighters have to utilize training and fitness facilities at 2 other separate buildings within the city complex. With the new station they would be able to stay at the one facility and still be in a position to respond quickly should any emergency arise.
While a fitness center may seem like a bit of a luxury for those of us who have to pay for our gym memberships, the firefighters said you have to keep in mind the physicality of their jobs.
"You go try to pick up a 350-pound person out of a bathroom and you'll see why we need to work out," Foster said. "Or put on a full pack of gear in 105 degrees."
"Fitness is an important part of our jobs," Johannesmeyer said. "Because if we don't have a certain level of fitness, then how long are we going to be able to last in our bunker suits when we're out trying to put out your house fire?"
Beyond its many additions and new features, the firefighters also say that the new station is simply long overdue.
"The station has been in this building (at 9th St. and Oklahoma Ave.) since 1918," the fire chief said.
"And has only had minimal remodels in that time," Rogers said. "Besides carpet and some paint, nothing has really been updated in years. I don't know when the last time the kitchen was updated."
"It was before I started working here," Day said, noting that he's been with the department for over 20 years.
The new station will not only house a much larger and updated kitchen and dining room area, but will also include 3 pantries, so that each shift can store their food separately.
The new station will also offer updated heating and cooling systems, which Ivie said is lacking in the current facility.
"Just with the inefficiency of this building to heat or cool it, we need a new station," he said. "Right now the air conditioners or heaters run 24/7 just to keep up. It's because this is such an old building with cracks and leaks."
The fire chief said the current station has served it's purpose but it is time to move forward.
"This building has lasted us for 95 years, and I hope the new one will last us for the next 100 years," Day said, noting that the new station "will be built for expansion with room to add more firefighters and equipment in the future."
But for those who still have questions about why a new fire station is needed, all the firefighters have the same answer for you: come take a tour of the current station and see for yourself.
"I would invite anyone who doesn't believe we need a new fire station to come up and talk with us and see our issues," Rogers said.
"If they have concerns and questions, just come up and see for themselves, we'll let them walk around," McDowell said.
"In fact we encourage it," Foster said.